A leading climate scientist says more pressure needs to be put on the transport sector if New Zealand wants to fulfil its climate change obligations.

New Greenhouse Gas Inventory figures, released today, showed New Zealand's gross emissions jumped 2.2 per cent between 2016 and 2017, accounting for some 80.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e).

The latest rise brought the increase in emissions between 1990 and 2017 to 23.1 per cent.

Net emissions, which are gross emissions minus carbon dioxide absorbed by forestry, also increased by 65 per cent since 1990.


The two biggest contributing sectors for gross emissions in 2017, were agriculture (48.1 per cent) and energy (40.7 per cent).

But the biggest drivers behind the increase over that period were fossil fuel-generated electricity production – and road transport emissions.

During the year, emissions from road transport climbed by 6 per cent – or 863 kilotonnes of CO2-e.

Emissions from electricity production increased 18 per cent – or 553 kilotonnes of CO2-e – largely as a result of droughts that affected the levels of hydro storage lakes, which in turn required greater use of fossil fuels.

Professor Dave Frame, director of Victoria University's New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, said transport emissions had grown "massively" since 1990.

"That's the big story that people should keep their eyes on because that's a really, really hard job [to lower the sector's emissions]," he said.

"You would need a much higher petrol price to do something about it and that would have regressive effects which would hurt poor people much more than rich people," he said.

"And the growth and share of electric cars has been nowhere fast enough to get to where we've said we want to be by 2030.


"As a sector, it's not feeling anywhere near enough pressure, given the commitments we have already made."

The Productivity Commission has recommended a move away from using fossil fuels for providing process heat for industry, and a "rapid and comprehensive" switch from petrol cars to EVs, of which fewer than 10,000 are on our roads today.

The feebate scheme it advocated would mean importers either pay a fee or receive a rebate, depending on the emissions intensity of the imported vehicle, and would also bring knock-on costs to buyers.

And without fleet-wide vehicle emissions standards - New Zealand was among just a handful of countries without them – the commission said the country risked becoming a "dumping ground" for high-emitting cars from other nations busy decarbonising their highways.

Government measures to specifically address transport emissions included transitioning the government fleet to electric vehicles, and investing $14 billion dollars into public transport, cycle-ways and walk-ways.

Elsewhere, the Government was investing $20 million each year in reducing agricultural emissions, and had pumped $100 million into a new green investment fund.

Greenpeace also pointed out the need to drive down agricultural emissions.

"The failure of the Government to do anything meaningful on agricultural emissions while continuing to subsidise them to the tune of a billion dollars a year is also a huge disappointment," its executive director Russel Norman said.

"As the inventory points out, a doubling of the dairy herd and a 650 per cent increase in synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use from 1990 to 2017 has driven a surge in emissions from the agricultural sector."

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the Government planned to pass its long-anticipated Zero Carbon Act this year.

"The legislation will establish the independent Climate Change Commission to provide advice on emission budgets and help keep us on track towards our long-term climate change goals," Shaw said.

"Reforms of New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme, which will also enter Parliament this year, will provide additional incentives for industry to reduce emissions over time."

The latest Inventory further showed around 6536 hectares of new forests were planted in 2017 and 4007ha were deforested.

The One Billion Trees programme, and the recently announced changes for new forests registered in the NZ ETS, meant that the trend of more forests being planted than cut down would continue, he said.

The inventory is released annually as one of New Zealand's mandatory reporting obligations under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

The information is always 15 months behind the current calendar year to allow for time to collect and process the inventory data and prepare it for publication.